The biomass market is predicted to grow based on an increased need for alternative energy sources. Although it is mainly Europe that has faced the energy crisis in the past year, the need to use biomass in the power mix is growing in the US and Asia Pacific as well. Which countries are the top consumers of biomass and how can biomass recycling process and use become more sustainable?

Biomass’s role in the energy mix: is biomass a sustainable and renewable energy source?

Biomass includes all the renewable organic material originating from plants and animals: specifically, it can be wood or wood processing wastes, waste from the agricultural industry, MSW (municipal solid waste) and finally animal manure (source). All this produces biogas, one of today’s most important sources of renewable energy.

Specifically, taking a look at the EU, biomass in all its forms seems to be the primary source of renewable energy. According to an EU report, bioenergy is mostly employed in the heating sector, with a share of almost 60%. Forest biomass is still a key source of biomass for energy (eg. wood processing residues, logging residues) though agricultural and urban waste are also valuable resources.

In Europe, there’s also been a debate lately about how sustainable the use of biomass in the energy mix is and how climate targets can be reached with or without it. Specifically, the questions are: should woody biomass be used in the first place? How should woody biomass be used? Should woody biomass be counted as a renewable energy source?

On one hand, there’s the need to produce more energy from renewable sources, including biomass, in the next few years (according to the latest targets, renewables should account for about 45% of the energy mix by 2030). On the other hand, there’s also the need to better define and control what kind of biomass is to be used to produce heat and electricity.

The debate has been long and rather difficult, but the bottom line is that energy sourced from biomass needs to meet some sustainability criteria like evidence of the protection of soil quality and soil carbon for agriculture waste and residues, evidence that the raw materials are not sourced from highly biodiverse forests, or fewer GHG generated emissions than fossil fuel (the GHG emissions-saving criteria should also apply to biomass-based installations).

The use of biomass around the world: how’s the biomass market doing in Europe, the US, and Asia?

Among the top European countries that use biomass in their renewable energy mix, there’s Sweden, whose 63% of energy comes from renewable sources, mainly biomass, hydropower, and wind, Finland, and Latvia, with a 42% share coming mostly from biomass and hydropower.

There’s also an interesting use case of biomass in Europe: Germany. According to data from 2018 (ETIP Energy), around 8.1% of the German primary energy consumption was covered by biomass and biogenic waste. The demand is growing and agricultural crops, residues such as straw and manure, and woody biomass are considered the main demand sources. However, a new and more climate-friendly perspective comes from Germany’s Federal Government which is now working to create the basis for more sustainable use of biomass with a focus on long-term investments in rural areas, known for using it as a source of energy. The objective would be to use biomass in a more climate-friendly way, such as using timber to make construction materials or furniture and using it as an energy resource only as a last resort. The strategy should be ready this year and could be a valuable example for other countries as well that need to increase the share of renewable energy sources, possibly more from solar, wind, and biofuels while mitigating climate change through a more sustainable use of biomass. Yet another piece of news concerning the heating sector comes from the European Commission, which is considering banning the sales of gas boilers in the EU starting January 2029. The initiative is part of a draft revision of the Ecodesign regulation, that is to be further discussed this May. You can see that we are heading towards more climate-friendlier ways of producing heat and electricity, but the task will not be an easy one.

Moving further, in 2021 in the US , biomass provided about 5% of the total primary energy consumption – mainly coming from biofuels (ethanol), followed by woody biomass and biomass from municipal solid wastes and sewage, animal manure and agricultural byproducts.

Where does biomass energy stand in Asia’s power mix? Countries in Asia are also trying to switch to renewable energy sources, though if we take a look at Japan, oil, coal, and natural gas are still dominating the energy system. According to an IEA report, renewables counted for only 6% of the total energy supply in Japan in 2019. The renewables share in the final energy consumption is 8% and around one-third is from biomass, but Japan is set to reduce GHG emissions to zero and become carbon neutral by 2050. The plan is to have a more sustainable energy mix.

The biomass market is growing in China as well, aiming at reaching the carbon-neutral objective by 2060. According to data, China produces over 900 million metric tons of agricultural and forestry biomass every year adding to that the biomass from organic waste. Of that, 90 million tons are used for power generation.

How can we make biomass recycling and use more sustainable: the challenge for the future

Well, in Europe, some of the European Commission proposals mentioned above will come to life and the industry will have to find ways to comply. Criteria for what is sustainable biomass will be put in place, and besides the sources from which the biomass comes, that must be certified, recycling plants will have to use machinery that is both environmentally friendly and performant so as to recover most of the biomass and compost where needed.

Another approach regarding woody biomass and its sustainable use comes from a US professor and interim associate head of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, Christopher Moorman. After researching how the harvest of woody biomass may impact biodiversity and wildlife, he found out that leaving a portion of the woody biomass suitable for bioenergy behind after a harvest, will maintain habitat for wildlife and ensure biodiversity.

Japan is also trying to increase the use of biomass and guides the usage based on sustainability criteria: from procurement and minimizing effect on existing utilization, to existing certification schemes.

Overall, one thing is sure: biomass needs to be put to good use, and industry players, together with authorities, will probably find the best solutions to make biomass recycling and use more sustainable. Then, of course, each country has its own objectives, rules, and set of sustainability criteria, but most probably, in the next few years, we will see more changes in regulations and best-case scenarios for using biomass whether it is woody, agricultural or urban biomass.

Biomass screening machines for the production of bioenergy

Whatever its use, biomass needs to be clean, separated from dirt or small plastics, and calibrated at the right size. That can be achieved with a 2 or 3-screening fraction system able to operate in line and in a loop with shredders.

Both Ecostar screening systems are equipped with Dynamic Disc Screening (DDS) technology able to work with wet material as well. The stationary screen Hexact, with a modular structure that starts at 2 meters and can be supplemented with additional 2 or 3 modular sections, can work by standing alone or as part of a recycling line. The DDS technology allows the use of 7.5 kW electric motors for outputs of 20 T/H and energy saving of up to 70% compared to traditional screening technologies.

While Hextra, the mobile screener, can reach even the most remote spaces and thanks to its own loading hopper can operate in a loop with a shredder. Its hydraulic system, which can be easily controlled by the operator, enables the screening options to be changed from 2 to 3 fractions in relation to specific processing needs. Moreover, the hopper slides to reduce its dimensions to a minimum during transport.

Watch the mobile screen Hextra in action with biomass here. 

Both screening machines can work at a capacity from 10 to 200 T/H and screening sections of 10, 20, 30, 50, 80, 100, and 200 mm and are equipped with hexagonal or octagonal discs made in Hardox, which makes them highly resistant in time. That results in lower maintenance costs due to wear.

Discover more about the screening of biomass.